“Ideas are more powerful than guns.”
Tony Benn, August 2007
The working class of the past were very aware of philosophical thoughts and argument. They came from a system of education and a society in which thought was valued just as much as employable skills. Men down the working mens clubs might not use high academic language, but they knew how to discuss and debate the issues. They would also have listened to union and labour speakers teaching about these things, building on the thoughts and knowledge that was developing out of the social revolutions of the late 19th century.
In the pursuit of skills for employability, tangible qualifications and testable learning, the idea of thought and philosophy for self enrichment has been totally lost. But ideas are powerful. More powerful than weapons, as Tony Benn put it. And ideas, once they take hold and grow roots, become the powerhouse for change.
There’s a rather poignant piece from Tony Benn on the Margaret Thatcher he knew in today’s Guardian:
“Margaret Thatcher was a very powerful, rightwing force in society. She followed her beliefs and had clear objectives. Her policy was to reverse the trends in modern politics that were made possible by the trade unions being legalised. She decided to eradicate the power of the unions, undermine local government and privatise assets – and these were the three policies of the labour movement.
It was not about style with her; it was substance – I don’t think she listened to spin doctors, she just had a clear idea and followed it through.
It was a major attack on democracy and at first it carried some public support, but then it became unstuck, and in the end, it was rejected. But ideas always come back and the modern Tory party is influenced by her ideas.
Although I thought she was wrong, she said what she meant and meant what she said. It was not about style with her; it was substance – I don’t think she listened to spin doctors, she just had a clear idea and followed it through.
I remember her at the funeral of MP Eric Heffer. I was asked to make a speech and as I was waiting, there was someone behind me coughing. It was Mrs Thatcher, and at the end I thanked her for coming and she burst into tears. She had come out of respect for someone whose opinions she disagreed with.”